As a year and decade come to a close, heres what we recall of the old. – Monterey County Weekly

Posted: December 26, 2019 at 10:50 am


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A year ago, anticipation was building for the opening of two spots in the historic Cooper Molera Adobe. Alta Bakery + Cafe became a hit. Cella Restaurant? Everyone is still waiting. Now as December and the year, and the decade come to a close, many wait eagerly for The Pocket in Carmel to welcome its first customers. That is expected early in the new year.

Roll the calendar back a decade and there was great anticipation for the opening of a taproom and restaurant called the Cannery Row Brewing Company. Last month, the place shut down suddenly. Maybe it was a fitting gesture, capping off a decade of openings and closings, stability and change in Monterey Countys culinary scene.

Before we give a send-off to the old, however, lets take a moment to welcome the new.

Chef and owner Susana Alvarez prepares everything from scratch, by hand, with a devotion to methods handed down through generations. Yet she is inventive and quite willing to give classics her own updates. In our words from earlier this year, Villa Azteca leaves you weakened by bliss.

Made in-house is a theme at veteran chef and restaurateur Soerke Peters newest spot. Even the pancetta is cured by Peters team. As we observed, small plates are as carefully concocted as entrees.

Were not trying to mask the meat, pitmaster Big Mike Lipscomb told us after we visited the new barbecue joint. We try to do things simple. But theres also a lot of thought and patience that goes into each dish.

Altas setting in the historic Cooper Molera Adobe may be old. But the menu food, drinks and baked goods is both fresh and original. They dress some dishes with herbs from the garden outside, a hint that the menu changes seasonally.

There are other restaurants to consider for the number-five slot, but its hard to argue with the splash The Butter House made on opening, drawing big crowds. And its even tougher to resist their fried chicken (with eight herbs and spices; no need for 11).

A few places began serving a little too late in the year to find their way on this list. But with Sur Burger, Pho #1, Yeast of Eden (the latest successful creation by the Alvarado Street Brewery team), 101 Wine Press, Pangaea and other appealing new additions, there are lots of culinary reasons to celebrate 2019.

What did the dining scene look like in 2010? Well, Harumi celebrated its first year. Peppolis turned 15, as did Montrio Bistro. Reds Donuts was 60 that year. Habaneros Grill & Cantina celebrated its grand opening in October with $3 margaritas and live Latin influenced music, whatever that means.

Its no longer around, nor is Amirs Kabob House, where you could watch belly dancing. Woodys Bayview Grill gone, along with the all-you-could-eat pancakes.

There were cringe-worthy events, like Moss Landing Inns monthly pole dancing contest. Beer pong tourney at The Hippodrome, anyone?

No, it wasnt all that prosaic. Aubergines then-chef Christophe Grosjean hosted a farm-to-table dinner in March, although locovore was the preferred term. Robert Kirklands Monterey Bay Salt Company was new but catching on quickly as people began to look for more local ingredients. And Pebble Beach Food & Wine, then in its third year, attracted the likes of Wolfgang Puck, Charlie Trotter and Michael Symon. Meanwhile Allegro was on the leading edge, developing both gluten-free and vegan pizza.

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What 2020 brings began a decade ago. Aubergines devotion to fresh, local and seasonal was worth boasting about then. Now chefs committed to local and sustainable are a common feature. Fresh, local and organic produce has become increasingly accessible to all income levels. The county now hosts farmers markets daily and year-round. And Aubergine with Justin Cogley at the helm now wears a Michelin star, the first such award to a Monterey County restaurant.

Vegan and gluten-free dining options were just catching on 10 years ago. Happy Girl Kitchen Co. opened in Pacific Grove in 2010. Now, restaurants are obliged to include options for both. Sur Burger crafts their own plant-based burger from scratch. And Happy Girl became the favorite ofBig Little Liescast members.

Pubs were paying attention to the menu, as well. When Penny Farthing Tavern reopened in Salinas, theWeeklynoted that its kitchen trends toward gastropub. (Thats before it became the since-closed Salinas Sports Tavern.)

Estban Restaurant brought tapas, small plates and shared plates to the fore. In 2010 Jacks not yet Jacks Monterey promoted a small plates menu. With the growing popularity of this option throughout the decade, dining out became more relaxed. Fast casual restaurants populated restored downtown strips (Alvarado Street in Monterey then, Broadway in Seaside now).

Speaking of downtowns, it was also before Oldtown Salinas recovered from the depths of the 2008 recession, before Starbucks and Portobellos opened in the Taylor Building, before Farmers Union Pour House and the Beerded Bean served beers and Patria merged elegance with a homey European menu.

Barbecue and French restaurants were everywhere a decade ago, or so it seems. There was Central Texan Barbecue in Castroville, Curlys Oak BBQ in Seaside and Henrys BBQ on Lighthouse Avenue in Monterey. Le Normandie occupied a spot on Lighthouse in Pacific Grove. There was Bistro Beaujolais in Carmel. TheWeeklyraved about Carmels Le St. Tropez: The Huberts [owners Jean and Mary] appear to have gauged the pulse of the community.

And so it goes. Maybe a quick nod to the souffle at Le St. Tropez, sheep dip at Carmel Valleys Downunder Deli or Paradiso on Cannery Row, where you could pause over paella. Kula Ranch was the readers pick for best restaurant in Marina then. Its gone now. Readers voting Crazy Horse as best salad bar? That hasnt changed although one wonders why the mega salad bar at Jerseys didnt fare as well.

Some familiar faces occupied different places. Chef Jerry Regester (Schooners Coastal Kitchen) directed the menu at C Restaurant + Bar. Matt Bolton (now at C Restaurant + Bar) joined the team at Pacifics Edge. And Pacific Edge chef Mark Ayers left to steer the kitchen at the much-anticipated Cannery Row Brewing Company. The taprooms ownership group, Coastal Luxury Management, also lured Tom Mosblech to lead the team at Restaurant 1833.

Maybe a little foreboding music is fitting here. CLM shuttered 1833 unexpectedly in 2017. It sits with chairs and barstools eerily vacant today. In November, Cannery Row Brewing Company met the same fate closed without warning.

Neon signs still shine from inside, a reminder of what once was. But as we enter 2020, its also a promise of something that will be.

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As a year and decade come to a close, heres what we recall of the old. - Monterey County Weekly

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